Book Review: Florence Foster Jenkins by Nicholas Martin and Jasper Rees

By Cavan Wood

This is an extraordinary story. Florence Foster Jenkins became a New York socialite who came to believe that she was a great singer. She wasn’t! She once said: “People may say I couldn’t sing. But no one can say that I didn’t sing.”

Her strange, out of tune recordings became cult albums, which David Bowie said were an influence on him (I think he as being ironic!). The recent Stephen Frears movie saw Meryl Streep give a great performance as this woman, a mixture of arrogance and naivety.

Like the story of Eddie the Eagle, this strange tale is important as it is about failure, not the kind of overcoming against the odds. Despite all her efforts, all her practices, she was still awful. Yet at the heart of this, she had a tragic secret which enables us to find her not just funny but also to see in her something of ourselves – complicated, lovable and arrogant she may have been but above all she was willing to keep going when others would have stopped. Perhaps that is a good lesson to learn.